Jessie Baylin press pic 2022

Before starting the process of making her new record Jersey Girl, Jessie Baylin wasn’t sure if she even wanted to keep making music at all.

The indie-pop singer-songwriter — a New Jersey native who spent eight years in Los Angeles before settling in Nashville — had a decade’s worth of critically acclaimed albums under her belt. Records like 2012’s Little Spark and 2015’s Dark Place are marked by an intoxicatingly warm vintage-pop sound, replete with Baylin’s dreamy vocals and lush arrangements. But in July 2018, Baylin’s frequent collaborator Richard Swift died after a brief hospitalization due to complications related to alcoholism.

Swift was something of an indie-rock guru. In addition to putting together a prolific solo catalog of his own, the West Coast native produced records for Foxygen, Damien Jurado, David Bazan, Kevin Morby and others. He also served as a sideman for The Shins and The Black Keys. With Baylin, he served as composer, arranger and performer — and to an extent, cheerleader.

“When he passed, there was obviously a lot of grief there, and I needed to process that before I got back into the studio,” Baylin tells me by phone, not long after completing a week’s worth of album-promotion events in New York. “But little did I know, once I got back into that space, there was just a great sadness, but I also felt his presence in a big way every day, just sort of remembering the things that he would remind me. He was like, ‘This is just you — all I do is turn on the microphones, you know.’ And I let those words that he left with me guide me through this process.”

Baylin also had some help from a pair of old friends. Jersey Girl was written and recorded with accomplished Nashville producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. Tashian has written songs with and for Tim McGraw, Martina McBride and Demi Lovato, among countless others. Fitchuk has done the same with Pink, Miranda Lambert, Amy Grant and dozens more. The duo also co-wrote and co-produced Kacey Musgraves’ 2018 smash success Golden Hour, which won Grammys for Album of the Year and Best Country Album. Baylin had worked with the pair before, but when she expressed uncertainty over entering the studio again, Tashian wasn’t having it.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore,’ ” says Baylin. “And Daniel was like, ‘Well, I’m just personally not OK with that. So I’m gonna trick you into making a record with me if that’s OK.’ And I was like, ‘Good luck.’ But it was a very good trick that he did, because it worked.”

Because Baylin and Tashian had last worked together on the former’s 2018 children’s album Strawberry Wind, and had played and worked together before that, the two had what she describes as an “effortless” rapport. They wrote much of the record together in the mornings before Tashian’s other sessions for the day started — “right after we both dropped our kids off at school,” Baylin explains.

Among the first songs to come together during those writing sessions were album opener “Night Flower” and the slow-burning “Velvet Touch.” On the record, the former is marked by that familiar Swift-esque warmth, like a lost track from The Velvet Underground & Nico.

“Obviously, Swift brings a very specific sound to his records,” says Baylin. “And I didn’t want to make that sound happen without him. I wanted to honor it, but also push it forward a little bit. I feel like we really did that in a way that’s respectful, where I don’t sound like a new artist. There’s all the dreaminess of what Richard and I were creating together. But you know, it just feels a little more, dare I say, mature. But maybe I’ve grown up. Maybe I’m finally growing up.”

Meanwhile, the piano ballad “Desire” has undeniable traces of Joni Mitchell’s influence.

“I was brought up on Joni Mitchell, and she’s absolutely an influence for me,” says Baylin when I point this out. “But sometimes when I am writing and I listen to Joni Mitchell, it shuts me down. It’s too good. It’s too deep. I’m like, ‘I’ll never get there — I’m too simple in comparison to Joni.’ ”

But “simple” isn’t quite right. Elsewhere on the record, “That’s the Way” and “Time Is a Healer” are uptempo rock numbers, while the midtempo “Strange Diamonds” is sultry and transfixing. With its reverb-drenched guitars and expansive arrangement, “Strange Diamonds” owes a small debt to Ennio Morricone, whose Western scores Baylin cites as another influence. When pressed, she admits that one just might be her favorite song on the record.

The album closes with “Jersey Girls,” a nod to the singer’s upbringing and the inspiration for the record’s title — not to mention a label Baylin says she’s been running from most of her life, but finally decided to embrace.

“A lot of the songs are all these different parts that I needed to make peace with. I made a hit list of, like, things I needed to look at — even if they were kind of ugly and shameful and lost and sad. And I wanted to just make peace with it all.”

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